That’s Not A Dog
Imagine taking a walk on a cold, winter day and coming face-to-face with a wolf. Well, for Sherrie and Nick Jans of Juneau, Alaska, it wasn’t something they had to imagine because it actually happened! The couple had been on a walk with their rambunctious lab, Dakotah, when they noticed a large, black dog approaching them. However, Nick soon realized…it wasn’t a dog.
Hunter Turned Photographer
Nick Jans was a wildlife photographer who used to be an avid hunter. He and his wife split the year between their winter home in Juneau, Alaska and their summers down in Florida. It was a particularly cold winter that year, but the couple had no idea it was going to be one of the best. And it would all be thanks to one wolf that would change their lives forever.
The Beautiful Wolf
The day that Nick and his wife encountered the wolf will always be engrained in his memory. Nick recalled that the large, black animal approached with no fear, but with a strong sense of curiosity. At first, Nick was worried about his safety, along with that of his wife and dog, but then something very strange happened.
No Pack of His Own
One of the first things Nick noticed was the wolf didn’t have a pack. While wolves were known to live solo from time to time, it didn’t happen often due to the threat of other predators. And while many would think a wolf would be immediately aggressive, that’s actually a common misconception.
More Like Dogs Than You’d Think
According to animal behavioralists, wolves are more like dogs than people might think. Even though the negative stereotypes are strong, just like dogs, wolves personalities are very different. Some are fearful, others are curious and you’ll even find wolves that have no issue with human interaction. Of course, there are wolves that are simply aggressive, but that is to be expected of an animal with intense predatory instincts.
Sizing Up the Competition
As the wolf approached Nick’s lab, he noticed the intense stare between the two animals, almost as if they were sizing each other up. The showdown lasted for several minutes, but the wolf showed no signs of aggression during that time. Eventually, the lab ran back to Nick and they began to walk home. The wolf howled as they left and what happened over the course of the next week was truly remarkable.
Not Afraid to Play
Nick and his wife continued to walk to the same area they had encountered the wolf over the course of the next week, and every time the wolf would show up. One day, they witnessed a skier and their pug pass by and the wolf and dog immediately began to play as if they were old friends. It was a fascinating sight, to say the least. Soon, word began to spread around town about the friendly wolf, who soon became a frequent visitor to the area.
A New Member of the Community
As the weeks went on, every time the wolf appeared he would play with the local dogs. Not once did the wolf act aggressively, and soon the locals became quite comfortable with the town’s new furry resident. As time passed, no one thought twice about the wolf playing in the snow.
A Wolf Unlike Any Other
From Nick Jan’s point of view, it all boiled down to the wolf seeking out companionship. He told National Geographic, “For want of a better word, the only thing I can say from a human perspective is that it amounted to friendship. If you wanted to be scientifically correct, it would be ‘social mutual tolerance’ But it was more than that. The wolf would come trotting over to say hi, and give a little bow and a relaxed yawn, and go trotting after us when we went skiing. There was no survival benefit. He obviously just enjoyed our company.”
The wolf would be a local resident of the area for the next six years and he would develop multiple friendships with the dogs in the area. On any given day, they could be seen playing in the snow, roughhousing around and just having fun. No one felt their safety was compromised, and it was simply a fascinating sight to see.
Romeo the Wolf
Nick would eventually name the wolf Romeo due to his love and obsession with his yellow lab. While Romeo loved to play with all of the dogs, it was Nick’s dog that was the most special. Wolves are known for having small family units, and for Romeo, Nick’s lab was his Juliet.
Flirtatious and Cunning
However, Romeo was just an all-around flirt in general. He was cunning and knew how to impress all the female dogs in Juneau. In fact, many would compete for his attention. Talk about being a wolf Cassanova.
Nick would soon begin to document Romeo’s interactions with the other dogs through photographs and his own commentary. In one interaction between his lab, Dakotah and Romeo, Nick stated, “He’s being very flirtatious. Dakotah is very confident but giving a neutral signal with her tail straight out. They’re both very relaxed; there’s not the least hint of aggression. And that was very typical of how Romeo interacted with dogs.”
Just like a human, it seemed Romeo had his favorites in the town. While he was never aggressive to anyone, he did have some dogs and humans he liked above the rest. And while locals and tourists loved to try and get up close and personal with the wolf, he preferred to keep his distance. For the most part, humans couldn’t get within a 100 feet of Romeo.
The Bravest Wolf Around
Nick Jans revealed to National Geographic that Romeo rarely shied away from anyone and seemed to be one of the bravest wolves in Alaska. Of course, this also brought into question whether or not Romeo had the proper survival instincts. Most wolves kept away from humans and for good reason, especially in Alaska.
It may come as a shock to some of you, but wolf hunting is actually a very popular sport. And while it may seem cruel, most of the time wolves are hunted in an effort to keep the population in check, as well as weed out aggressive ones that attack local farm animals, and even worse, domestic pets!
Still A Wild Animal
One important truth that Nick stressed about Romeo was that he was still a wild animal. Every night he would retreat back into the woods to hunt, but in the morning he would always reappear. The longest the locals would go without seeing him would be two to three days at most. No one really knew what he did when he returned to the wild, but he certainly didn’t act like most wild wolves in the area.
Learning to Play Fetch
As time progressed, Romeo began to pick up new skills. He learned to play fetch with the local residents and even tried to teach the other dogs he played with some new tricks. A strong bond of love and trust naturally grew between the residents and Romeo, and it was truly something special to witness.
While many people would assume that the locals were taking a big risk interacting with a wolf, it was actually the other way around. According to Nick, Romeo had always been docile and never showed a hint of aggression to humans or other dogs. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop people from questioning whether or not the wolf should be relocated.
Concerns for Safety
Some people began to question if Romeo was safe in the area, and they were scared he could end up shot by an uneducated hunter. Other residents raised concerns that since Romeo was still a wild animal, he could lash out one day and injure one of the local dogs or even worse a child.
With the town divided, a decision on what to do about Romeo wouldn’t be easy.
Compassion for Animal Welfare
In the end, the residents agreed that Romeo had never hurt a human or an animal and there was no reason to punish him for something he could do in the future. In the end, compassion for animal welfare won over the hearts of the locals.
Wolves in Alaskan Culture
Throughout history, wolves have played an important role in Alaskan culture, especially for the indigenous people known as the Inuit. Living in the arctic regions, such as Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, they believe that the wolf is a superior being with special powers. The Inuit have a deep respect for all of nature and the animals who dwell there.
A Special Wolf Indeed
For Romeo, many of the local Inuit saw him as a special spirit. Some feared him out of respect for his intelligence and survival instincts, while others believed that his lack of predatory behavior meant his spirit was there to guide the locals to a higher purpose.
Gone Without A Trace
Sadly, that higher purpose would end up remaining a mystery. In September of 2009, Romeo vanished without a trace. After people hadn’t seen him for about a week, the locals grew concerned for his well-being. It was unlikely he had moved on from the area, and he never was gone for more than two days at a time. Where could Romeo be?
Searching for Answers
The locals began to search the area and surrounding wilderness, hoping to catch a glimpse of their beloved wolf. Sadly, he was nowhere to be found. Months passed and the investigation continued on without much success. Then…a horrible discovery.
A Tragic Discovery
The truth was finally revealed. A member of the town along with his friend had shot and killed Romeo. Avid hunters, they couldn’t resist the opportunity to claim a new trophy. And with Romeo being such an easy target due to his friendliness, he was easily picked off by the hunters. A terrible end for such a sweet animal.
Justice for Romeo
The locals were outraged. They demanded justice for the loss of their town’s symbol of compassion. Thankfully, the two hunters were stripped of their hunting privileges, had to pay thousands of dollars in fines, and were also sentenced to years of probation. The judge was shocked by their lack of compassion and empathy and hoped they would see the error of their ways.
A Positive Outlook
Despite Romeo’s untimely death, there was a silver lining. Wolves in the wild rarely make it to the age of three. Romeo was almost eight years old at the time of his death. While his survival instincts were definitely called into question, he did have a very long and fulfilling life, bringing joy to those around him.
Honoring Romeo’s Memory
Not wanting Romeo’s memory to fade away, the town created a memorial for the sweet wolf. They hoped to continue to honor his legacy and remember the kindness that he shared with them each and every day.
Telling His Story
Nick Jans and his wife were so moved by their experience with Romeo that they decided to write about about him. They wanted to spread his story around the world, hoping to change the way humans view and value all life on the planet, regardless of species.
Romeo certainly was one-of-a-kind, and we’re sure his legacy will live on for years to come.